Managers vs. Agents: Esteemed Entertainment Lawyer Distinguishes the Roles

This past spring, one of the Department heads we work with at FremantleMedia invited us to attend the live performance of an “American Idol” taping. This taping, or rather, pop-hysteria, led to conversations relating to the management of those that do not win the title of the next “American Idol”.

Now we all know that the winner is locked into a contract with Music Label/Management Company, “19”, but what of the other near-Idols? Who gets to run their proverbial show? This question, in accompaniment to some of the surrounding conversations and eager talent managers, reminded us of a piece of legalese that has come up time and time again in our practice. The issue: Managers vs. Agents.

Whether you are a bona fide Talent Manager, a Stage Mom, or the girlfriend who listened to her boyfriend’s band play one night at the local pub and decided to serve as its manager, you should understand the differences between the roles that managers and agents are legally entitled to play. . . for your own good!

For starters, agents are licensed by the state they work in and most commonly earn their money by negotiating deals for their clients. Typically, they also enter into a client agreement which is, in pertinent part, regulated by industry labor unions such as, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and, the Directors Guild of America (DGA). Through these regulated agreements, the commissions that agents charge their clients are legally bound to a prescribed percentage. Furthermore, it should be noted that agents may not serve as a producer on their clients’ projects.

On the other hand, managers are not commission-regulated, do not need a license to ‘manage’ and, can charge their clients 15% or more. . . and often do. Moreover, managers may produce film or television if they wish to and so of course, they are also afforded the ‘glamour’ element in that they might find themselves in the spotlight one Award evening with an Emmy or an Oscar in tow.

In light of these representative differences, and as you might imagine, the ever-evolving entertainment industry has shifted gears over the years to accommodate and benefit from both of these roles. Without surprise to anyone, these specialty services have impacted not only the way talent pursues work, but the manner in which movies and television are actually made.

So what’s the big deal!? We all have a job to do, right!?

Well, one common issue arises from infuriated agents who argue that managers who attach themselves to their clients’ projects as producers are not legitimate producers and are consequently driving up production costs. Subsequent to such a contention, agents have put pressure on industry guilds by lobbying to either deregulate agents, or regulate managers. And, while no exact resolution has been reached to date, SAG has begun to pay closer attention to the black letter law and has consequently cracked down on the procurement of employment by managers for their clients. On the what you ask? On getting the talent a gig!

In California, Labor Code Sec. 1700.4(a) defines “talent agency” as “a person or corporation who engages in the occupation of procuring, offering, promising, or attempting to procure employment of engagements for an artist.” Moreover, Sec. 1700.5 provides that “[n]o person shall engage in or carry on the occupation of a talent agency without first procuring a license…from the Labor Commissioner.”

Therefore, ATTENTION ALL MANAGERS: Be Weary of The Services You Provide!

Procuring employment for your artist-client is not only illegal without proper licensing but, should you attempt to collect any unpaid fees, you can rightfully not only be denied those monies for having performed a service you were not licensed to perform but, you can also be ordered to return any fees already received!

So what’s the bottom-line? Both forms of talent reps are still widely used and widely needed in the ‘industry’. However, it is important that Managers know their role in their clients’ professional lives and also know the potential consequences they may face if they knowingly (or even unknowingly) provide services reserved for licensed Agents.

Tags: , , , , , ,

This entry was posted on Monday, June 28th, 2010 at 8:24 am and is filed under California Law, Contract Law, Entertainment Law. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

Comments are closed.